“It’s a make-or-miss league.”
The phrase so commonly used by Kevin Durant this season has routinely doomed the Brooklyn Nets late in games since trading the all-time great scorer. The new-look Nets held the NBA’s 23rd-ranked 4th-quarter offense over 20 games heading into Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Houston Rockets.
However, in a game where Brooklyn looked unengaged through three quarters, fourth-quarter shotmaking would bail them out.
The Nets appeared destined for a disastrous loss while trailing the league’s worst team 110-105 with 3:05 remaining. They would close the game on a 19-4 run while scoring on seven-straight possessions, four of which were threes, to secure a 123-114 win.
Brooklyn shot 9-of-10 from three overall in the final period. Cam Johnson, who scored a game-high 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from three, said the Nets’ up-tempo drive and kick offense was an effective change from their traditional, isolation-heavy approach late in games:
“Sometimes at the end of game it’s easy to just kind of accept isos and take tougher shots, but I think especially in a game like tonight, moving the ball will allow us to find the shot that we like,” he said. “Just continuing to attack the rim. When the ball touches everybody’s hands it creates a good team rhythm.”
Cam Johnson vs Houston Rockets
+17 in 35 minutes.#Nets W. #NetsWorld #NBA pic.twitter.com/D8oUJJerDk
— A Walking Highlight (@11AWH) March 30, 2023
Four Nets players scored eight or more field goals in the win. In addition to Johnson, Mikal Bridges knocked down 4-of-6 threes on his way to 27 points. Spencer Dinwiddie bounced back from an 0-of-11 performance Sunday to score 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. And Nic Claxton posted 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Brooklyn tallied 33 assists on the night, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. And head coach Jacque Vaughn said that even shot distribution is ideal for his new-look squad:
“That really becomes a sweet spot for us,” Vaughn said postgame. “If we can get 30 assists or more on a nightly basis, it means we’re moving the basketball, it means we’re making shots also. What comes with that is the ability to continue to create for each other, the ability to continue to believe that your pass is the correct pass to make. So that part of the game was really good for us.”
Johnson said the Nets’ team-oriented, score-by-committee approach needs to be the identity of the young team moving forward:
“When we play that way it’s a lot of fun,” he said of Brooklyn’s fourth-quarter passing. “I think that’s gonna have to be the identity of this team. Just a team where you don’t know who’s gonna score 25 every night. Guys that can score the ball, guys that distribute the ball across the board. I think we need to play off that, I think we need to feed off that and just embrace it.
“Six games left in the regular season, this is important for us. If we can find a rhythm here, it’s about getting hot at the right time.”
Despite the victory, Brooklyn’s effort level and engagement were subpar in a must-win game against an inferior important, something the Nets wing emphasized postgame:
“There’s no excuse for how we played the first 40 minutes of the game,” he said. “It’s on us to be better and we were able to clean it up and come out of this won with the win. Coach JV said in the locker room, ‘I’d rather learn from wins than losses.’”
While Brooklyn’s start was disappointing, Wednesday’s late-game offensive execution is a feeling the young roster had not yet experienced in a come-from-behind win. Vaughn applauded his team’s growth following the critical win:
“If you can take anything from the game, really we were pretty impressive on both ends of the floor in the last three minutes,” the coach said. “Our ability to get the shots that we wanted, the spacing that we created for each other, it just shows growth from a week ago, two weeks ago… Overall, the group is growing together, trusting each other more, starting to understand what each other can do, and helping each other.”
Johnson echoed a similar message, saying the performance can serve as a confidence-builder as the Nets move towards the playoffs:
“Just something that we can add to the bank of things that we’ve done,” he said of the fourth-quarter scoring outburst. “We can learn from it, learn from our late-game execution and how we’re able to do it. We’ve been in plenty of positions. Sometimes we’ve done well, sometimes we haven’t. So this is one that we can look back on and see the ball movement and see the team defensive effort and the fact that we can do it. Going forward that’s kind of the recipe.”
With the win and a Miami Heat loss, Brooklyn holds a commanding 1.5-game lead (two in loss column) for the East’s sixth seed with six games remaining. The Nets will be back in action Friday vs. Atlanta as they look to take a significant step towards clinching a playoff birth.
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